Freedom versus access rights in a European contextAd van Loon*
During the last decade of the twentieth century, discussions in Europe focused on how to guarantee pluralism in the traditional media (press, radio and television). As a result, four different systems to safeguard and promote pluralism in the media sector can now be identified in Europe:
|1 through subsidies, programme prescriptions, quality requirements, frequency distribution, maintenance of public broadcasting systems, etc.;|
|2 restrictions on media ownership and control;|
|3 restrictions on audience reach (in the UK: 'share of voice'), i.e. the audience share which a single owner or controller of media outlets is allowed to control with all its media outlets in a relevant audience market;|
|4 restrictions linked to the control by media undertakings over essential resources (such as financial means or infrastructure).
'Mixed'-hybrid-systems to safeguard and promote pluralism in the media sector also appear. The first question which arises, however, is what exactly is one trying to safeguard and promote: what is meant by a state of pluralism in the media sector? A second question is how this desire of European states to safeguard and promote pluralism in the media sector relates to the fundamental right of everyone to freedom of expression without interference by public authorities. This fundamental right is guaranteed by the Council of Europe and all of its member states,
2 as it is laid down in the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR). A third question to be asked is how national policies to safeguard and promote media pluralism, which are in line with fundamental rights requirements, relate to general European law requirements for those fifteen Council of Europe members (of a total forty-one) which are members of the European Union (henceforth EU law). A fourth and last question which will be dealt with is whether the existing methods of safeguarding and promoting pluralism in the (traditional) media sectors are capable of guaranteeing pluralism in the changing technological and economic environment of the Global Information Society.